Wedding photographers often tell me how annoying it can be to get a consistent white balance across the images of the day. Shooting weddings almost every weekend during the summer myself, I used to have that problem as well. With a white dress for the bride and a white shirt for the groom, it should be easy though. The problem is I like my images to make my couple look good. Meaning I like having the same skin color and tone on every picture. During the day, their skin might change color a bit because of the sun, the emotions, and the alcohol. Switching to Capture One this year I found the perfect solution to avoid this issue: setting my white balance based on skin tones and not on a gray card anymore.
Camera Raw or Lightroom are excellent tools. I used to work only with Adobe products until I decided to give Capture One a try for its tethering functionality which works much better than that of Lightroom. I then really liked the rendering of my processed images using Capture One. Finally, I found a couple of tools that changed my workflow and made my work much easier and my processing quite faster. One of them is the possibility of setting the white balance of images according to the skin tone of my subject. How does this make my workflow faster and better? Let's see that with an example.
Set the White Balance According to Skin Tones
When shooting, I try to get a pretty accurate white balance for each location I am photographing at. It makes my post-processing usually faster and easier, but mainly my pictures looking better straight out of camera. When my images are culled, I import the selected ones into Capture One, apply my preset on all images, and generate the preview for each of them (select all images, right click and select Regenerate Previews). I then end up with only minor adjustments to do and images should load quite fast as the preview is generated with my preset already applied.
Once that is done, I will go back to the getting ready part of the day, when makeup has just been done. That way I have fresh looking skin with perfect tones. I choose one image that I particularly like and set its white balance to make the skin look the way I want. For this reference image, I generally use the Grey tab of the White Balance panel and set it manually until I am happy with the way the image looks.
I then create a white balance preset in the Skin Tone tab. To do so, simply enable Pick to create new, then activate the Skin tone picker (keyboard shortcut is s) and click on the skin of the groom or the bride.
It will then ask you to give it a name.
Once I have created one for the groom, I will do the same for the bride. From there, I will find an image for each location with either the bride or the groom on it and apply the skin tone white balance preset created. It works very much like the traditional white balance picker, only you select the skin tone of matching the active preset instead of picking a neutral area.
When each location has one image that is correctly balanced, I will use the Adjustments tab to replicate the white balance across the images of the same location.
Consistency for More Refined Looking Images
Some of you might be wondering what the interest of setting up the white balance according to the skin tone is. Why not just set it according to the clothing instead? It is a great question and I actually would not use the tool for everything I photograph. I find it perfect for weddings or portraits but not for fashion or beauty.
The traditional way of setting the white balance with a neutral gray or white area works perfectly to set a technically correct white balance — which I tend to do for my studio work. However, when shooting weddings, I do not always want a technically correct white balance. What I rather have is my bride and groom to look fresh all day long in my pictures. If they have sunburn on their faces because the cocktail was outdoor under bright summer sunlight, and the lighting of their reception is a trendy purple,I am quite sure that if I set my white balance according to their clothes they will still look red. Even if the purple might be corrected, the sunburn probably will not. Using this white balance skin tone tool will allow you to set the white balance of the image to make their skin look great. Think of it as "skin balance" rather than "white balance," it might make it easier to understand.
Sure, the environment might not seem the proper color, but what is the subject of your image? Also, there is always the brush tool to correct the white balance on the rest of the picture or just locally if needed.
Capture One for Weddings an Overkill?
Capture One is known amongst photographers for being a great tool to process raw files and get amazing skin tones. The white balance tool is part of the reason for this reputation. Another reason is the possibility of having uniform skin tones very quickly and easily. I actually wrote a previous article on that precise topic.
The thing is that people seem to think Capture One is slow — very slow — and thus only worthy for studio work where you do not need to work on as many images as for weddings. The truth is, Capture One is not all that much slower than Lightroom. I would actually say it is almost faster as you can customize the interface however you like to fit your needs. Also, a couple of tools such as the one presented in this article can make it really worth it for wedding photographers.
If you have not tried it for weddings yet, you definitely should. With the season being almost over for most of us (unless you live in South Africa or Australia), it might be just the perfect time to give it a try. I made the change right before the beginning of this wedding season, and I do not see myself going back to Lightroom unless Adobe brings something mind-blowing in the next version.